Holiday hotspots are the butt of the ‘affordable’ housing joke

‘Affordable housing” is a joke. The term is so subjective as to render the 80 per cent of market value definition useless. Housing is increasingly unaffordable to many, whether it comes at a 20 per cent “discount” or not. It is a problem particularly exacerbated in holiday let and second-home hotspots.

Carol Lewis

In places popular with second-home owners house prices are likely to be more indicative of the income levels of the incomers than the resident population. This is why a more logical way of defining “affordable” would be to peg it to local earnings rather than local house prices.

Take Southwold on the Suffolk coast, where the average new-build home is £396,151; with a 20 per cent discount that’s £316,921. The median local salary is £22,856, so for housing to reflect local wages (4.5 times salary) a new home would have to be priced at £102,852 — a difference of 208 per cent, or £214,069, according to data provided by the property portal

Southwold’s Liberal Democrat councillor, David Beavan, says one so-called affordable house in the town is now being sold on the open market because no local could afford it — “unless they earned more than £80,000 a year”. He claims the three-bedroom shared-ownership home in the Old Hospital was earmarked for residents but which would cost £1,500 a month, has sat empty for nearly two years.

Southwold is far from the worst affected. For instance, in the Cotswolds the average affordable home costs £582,088 — 486 per cent more than the average resident could borrow — while the mortgage available for an average local income is just £99,356.

The issue was discussed in the Lords last week; peers argued for an amendment to the levelling-up bill to peg affordable housing to local earnings.

It was recently announced that second-home owners will be forced to seek planning permission before renting out their properties as holiday lets. It is a well-meaning intervention supported by many in holiday hotspots, but there are those who say it could push house prices up even further.

Chris Norris, policy director of the National Residential Landlords Association, has told me that the proposed changes could backfire, with homes that have an established use as short lets — or, in future, with planning permission — trading at a premium. In effect this will force prices up in some holiday locations and accentuate the two-tier property market between second homes/holiday lets and local homes.

So what’s the punchline? The definition of affordable housing needs to be re-thought and linked to local salaries rather than local house prices. The setting up of community land trusts ( needs to be encouraged and supported. These community-owned organisations own the land on which they build genuinely affordable homes based on what residents earn. Add to this a concerted effort to build more housing, particularly of the social kind.

Admittedly it isn’t exactly hilarious, but being able to afford a home shouldn’t be.